By Mike Braswell
It has become too easy today to harm someone, and people seem to have no problem doing so. Social media could be used to lift up and provide people with encouragement. Yet, we all seem to enjoy just the opposite. I use the term 'we' because I am sure as guilty as anyone. I am working on that.
It is easy to 'fly off the handle' when something doesn't go as expected. Heck, I did it before the internet made it into a sport. Many years ago, I lived in Pooler and traveled extensively throughout the surrounding counties in Georgia and South Carolina. When I could arrange it, I would make my last stop at a favorite BBQ joint about twelve miles from home and get takeout for my wife and me.
I loved the food and had eaten there and taken out from there on many occasions. The food was always excellent, and the service was second to none. I never bothered to tell any of the folks there how satisfied I was with the entire experience. Then came that one day when they made a mistake, and my short fuse was lit. (Jackson side of the family)
I was hurrying to get home to my newlywed bride and was running late. I had to wait in line at the drive-in window for quite a while. All the time becoming more 'antsy.' My first instinct is to bite and sting anything near me when provoked or even if I think I am.
So, I finally reached the drive-in window and placed my order. "I want a number seven combo and a number five. Make the number seven (my wife's meal) all the way and make sure that the cheeseburger (number five) has nothing on it," is how I ordered. The girl replies, " So, nothing on that cheeseburger?" I confirmed, and my order was ready in record time." When I received my food, I drove the twelve miles to my home in Pooler, now even in more of a hurry.
When I arrived home, I went into the house without hesitation because I was hungry and ready to eat. I hadn't had time to eat lunch while on the road and was especially eager to have supper. I took a couple of cans of Coke from the fridge as my wife and I sat down. I reached into the bag and retrieved our meals. I had to sample a couple of fries before I unwrapped the burger. Of course, I sneaked a couple (plus or minus five) of my wife's fries so I'd still have enough to eat with my meal.
As I unwrapped my burger, the anticipation was building. I couldn't wait for a bite of that juicy, greasy, cheesy masterpiece. I was so hungry that I didn't notice that the burger was wimpy. I took a huge bite, and as I began to chew, I noticed that the burger wasn't right. I laid it down on the wrapper that it came in. I then noticed that the wrapper wasn't laden with grease like usual.
I lifted the top bun to reveal nothing but the top side of the bottom bun. No meat (burger) and no cheese (cheese), you know, that stuff the cheeseburger is named after. I was more than mad! I was hurt and on the verge of mental anguish. If this had happened today, I am sure I could have found some slick lawyer with a phone number with all the same numbers, like 666-6666, to represent me and win millions for himself to compensate for my mental anguish. I'd probably get a proper burger after collecting his fees. I'd still have to spring for the fries and Coke, though.
So, this was 1983, well before the internet. I thought, 'self, there is no Facebook, so you will have to drive back to that restaurant to 'let them have it.' Oh, boy, did I drive back! The Pooler Police were very efficient in catching speeders. In fact, I was rewarded with two speeding tickets in Pooler. One right in front of city hall and the other in front of Lovezzola's Pizza and Subs. I still don't see how the same officer caught me in both places if he wasn't speeding too. I regret asking him that now, though. He must have called ahead to The State Patrol office. I got my third ticket at the offending BBQ place from a State Patrol Officer, who I refrained from asking any questions. The officer had overdone it on the 'Old Spice' cologne, and I began sneezing but kept my composure as best I could. I didn't mention the other two speeding tickets and hoped that he wouldn't. That day, I learned to say 'yes sir and no sir' to the law. The one time I forgot was Christmas Day when I got six tickets from a single traffic stop. The last one for simply uniquely telling the officer Merry Christmas. Another story for another day.
So now, I was furious; it was all the fault of that girl who made my 'cheeseburger with nothing on it.' You know, that thing people who at least register on the I.Q. scale call a bun. I almost ripped the door off of the place. When I walked in, everyone sensed my anger and looked at me. I went straight to the counter and physically moved the folks aside who were in front of me. I slammed the bag with the 'Nothing on It Burger' on the counter and said, "I want to talk to whoever makes the burgers." It turned out that it was the same girl that had taken my order. A short little blonde that barely could see over the counter. She had stood on a milk crate to operate the drive-in window. (I noticed it over there somehow, even in my rage.)
"Do you have any %&*#+^@ idea why they call cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers?" I didn't give her a chance to answer. "Because they have cheese and a hamburger patty on the bun. You know this thing!" I said as I pulled out the bun with a huge chunk missing and slammed it down so hard that the countertop shifted forward, and everything on the counter fell to the ground. Everyone in the place looked at me once again. Someone new entered the door behind me, but I was oblivious in my rage. I picked up the items from the floor and placed them on the counter less than calmly (not out of niceness, I am just OCD). I had to have everything in order before I could continue my berating of the now-terrified pretty burger flipper. I showed her no mercy.
I educated her on assembling a burger in simple-to-understand yet colorful language. I wanted to make sure that my lesson took. About that time, I began sneezing as the smell of 'Old Spice' permeated my senses. That's when I noticed the shadow cast against the counter's base. The wide-brim hat cast a distinct shadow. My brain told me that I should leave now. My feet were glad to take the suggestion. As I turned to go, I was face to face with the same officer who had written the speeding ticket out in the parking lot. "Do you have a problem with my daughter?" he asked with an evil smirk. My legs became jelly as I tried to answer the officer, who seemed much bigger now. I couldn't get a word out and just looked down at my shoes, walked around the officer, and made my way to the door.
"Stay out there by your car until I get my food. I'd like to talk to you," the young patrolman said. He displayed a menacing grin, and his hand rested atop his gun. I swear I saw his trigger finger itching. Well, it was twitching anyway. Before this, I had only been worried about paying for those tickets. I always try to look on the bright side, and the weird thought that 'well, if he shoots me, I will get out of paying those fines' comforted me in some twisted fashion.
I had no intention of staying out there and getting shot or, even worse (in my mind), another ticket. I made it to my car and opened the driver-side door. I could see the officer plainly inside the restaurant. He had his highly trained laser eyes upon me. I didn't dare get into my car. Then came my big break. He walked toward the restrooms and disappeared behind the men's room door.
That's when I decided I hadn't broken any laws by complaining about my order being so screwed up, even if the girl was a cop's daughter. A cop that had just written my third speeding ticket in twenty minutes. I jumped in my car and got the heck out of Dodge. About halfway home, I realized I never got my cheeseburger and considered circling back, but common sense struck, and I opted for a stop at the Dairy Queen. I kept my eye on the rearview mirror during my daring escape. I wanted to get back home. When I arrived on Roger's Street, where my apartment was, I opted to park around the back and enter through the back door. I wanted to avoid visitors with badges.
I was a little nervous but finished my D.Q. meal. I ate it in total darkness. I was prepared to ignore any knock at the door. My wife had left a note on the fridge indicating that she had to run to town. I prayed that she didn't return home to find me being hauled away in handcuffs or on a gurney. I was madder now than ever at that 'dumb' girl who had prepared my 'cheeseburger' with no cheese or burger. I didn't sleep a wink that night. My misappropriated anger and my fear of eminent arrest, or worse, kept me alert and on guard until the sadistic alarm clock summoned me to rise the following day.
As you may have surmised, there were consequences to my actions that night. Three speeding tickets and a possible brush with death because I reacted negatively over what I considered an egregious mistake. Although the consequences could have been far worse, they were bad. I had to work a long day on the road the next day, and I was so tired from lack of sleep that I made poor decisions on the job that next day. My lack of self-control (misplaced anger) resulted in a chain reaction of errors.
I wish that I could say that I learned a valuable lesson that day, but the truth is that I had to mess up many more times before I realized that I am responsible for my own stupidity, regardless of what anyone else may have done to provoke my inappropriate response. It is just too easy to justify bad behavior by pointing toward the mistakes of others. I wasn't living by 'The Golden Rule.' I was living on 'self will run riot.' I was the ultimate hypocrite, blinded to my faults yet hypersensitive to everyone else's.
I punished myself by not returning to that restaurant for over a year. When I did, that very same girl served me. "Hey, I remember you. You were that guy that gave me such a bad time about your cheeseburger," her words struck my heart. I felt so 'dirty,' and then she drove in the final nail. "I had just lost a child to a miscarriage the day before that and was very upset when you placed your order. I wasn't thinking straight."
My first reaction was to make excuses for my behavior, but I realized there was no excuse for my childish and selfish behavior. "I am so sorry for being a jerk. There is no excuse for my asinine behavior. How can I make it up to you?" That cute young girl replied, "don't ever leave here mad again, and please don't wait so long before you come back. I always liked you and looked forward to seeing you. I am happy that you came back." I noticed her 'baby bump' when she handed over my order some minutes later. I left that restaurant a better person that evening. I returned often.
I had not dared to check my order in the restaurant, but when I walked to my car, I looked to see if she had gotten it right. There were two cheeseburgers and two orders of fries in the bag. A note had been scribbled on my napkin. "I knew that that wasn't you that day, that you were just upset. Have a nice day, and please come back." I did, too, on several occasions. I had the honor of meeting her family, including her husband, who was a great guy. Her son was born without complications. I met her family and saw her child grow into a robust toddler. Oh, and that State Patrol officer ate there almost every evening. He eventually let me know that he wasn't her father. He was standing up for her when he heard this jerk (me) give her a bad time on a day when he knew she had been struggling.
'Consequences' are missing in today's 'connected' society. When we fly off the handle and post something negative about a person or business based on a single bad experience, we are just plain being cowards, and yes, JERKS! Be considerate and kind even when you feel that you have been wronged. Humans are prone to error, and we all need love. Sometimes love is simply overlooking the faults in others and reaching out a helping hand instead of administering a slap, be it actual or figurative. Love thy neighbor and do onto them as you would have them do onto you. Practice The Golden Rule.